KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 5 — Several Muslims say Islamic laws should not be used to regulate their personal lives in areas like sex, what they eat, or even what they read, after a publisher failed to challenge at the Federal Court a Shariah enactment used to seize a book on Islam.
Communications manager Ahmad Ariff Azmi, 27, who is currently living in Australia, noted that Muslims in Malaysia suffer from restrictions, such as identifying with alternative schools of thought as religious authorities only allow the practice of the Shafi’i school.
“I don’t think faith needs a regulatory authority,” Ahmad Ariff told Malay Mail Online, when asked if Shariah laws should not regulate areas like praying, drinking, dressing or having sex.
“There are too much politicking and corruption rife in Malaysian governance that can also be found with the individuals governing these religious institutions. It is Allah’s law; you as the individual have to self-regulate and interpret within yourself to what you think will please the Creator and ultimately gain your eternal salvation,” he added.
Malay Mail Online polled half a dozen Malaysian-Muslims living here and overseas, most of whom said a Muslim’s personal life should not be regulated by the state, even as Shariah laws across the country mandate fines and imprisonment for things like skipping prayers, not fasting during Ramadan, or even caning for adultery or consuming alcohol.
Different freedom for Muslims and non-Muslims
Bar Council constitutional law committee chair Firdaus Husni said the freedom for Muslims and non-Muslims “differs in varying degrees” due to different existing regulations and restrictions.
She noted that there are permissible restrictions to one’s freedom to speech and expression, such as Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution that allows the enactment of laws to control the “propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam”.
“It is however important to note that following from a string of decided cases, it has been held that while one’s fundamental rights under the Federal Constitution must be interpreted generously, any permitted restriction to an individual’s constitutionally guaranteed freedom must be read restrictively,” Firdaus told Malay Mail Online.
Former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim lamented Tuesday that Muslims in Malaysia do not enjoy constitutional liberties, following the apex court’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of Section 16 of the Shariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995 that makes it a crime for Muslims to publish publications deemed to be against Islamic law.
The court ruling means that ZI Publications director Ezra Zaid will have to stand trial in the Shariah court, who faces a fine not exceeding RM3,000 or two years’ prison, or both, if he is found guilty under Section 16(1) of the Selangor Shariah law.
ZI Publications and Ezra had challenged the Shariah law after Selangor religious authorities seized from their office in 2012 180 copies of “Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta”, a Malay translation of Irshad Manji’s book titled “Allah, Liberty and Love”. Manji is a Canadian Muslim journalist, who’s also a lesbian feminist.
Production manager Hazily Hariss said he felt that Muslims in Malaysia have less freedom than non-Muslims, pointing to “most” Malaysian Muslims who want to be “perfect” Muslims and who try to Arabicise everything.
“And for that reason, the ones in power put everyone else under a microscope to make sure we obey their rules and ideals,” Hazily, 28, told Malay Mail Online.
He also said Muslims should not be regulated in areas like consuming alcohol, or how they pray, dress, or have sex, stressing that “everything and anything a person does is between them and God”.
Should be free to read anything
Haslinah Yacob, who is pursuing a Master’s in counselling, said Muslims should be free to read any book on religion, be it Islam or other faiths.
“The Quran tells us to think...not to follow blindly. That is what I am doing. I want to see available literatures. If no religion can withstand being ‘picked /analysed’, then it is the wrong one,” Haslinah, 54, told Malay Mail Online.
She cited Chapter 10, verse 100 of the Quran that states: “And it is not for a soul to believe except by permission of Allah, and He will place defilement upon those who will not use reason”.
Economics student Adam, who is currently studying in Australia, said Shariah law should not regulate any “personal” matters.
“More pressing matters like disputes in marriage contracts, laws of business transactions and the likes are more necessary matters that should be regulated by Shariah law,” said Adam (a pseudonym).
The 24-year-old Malaysian Muslim also questioned Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution, one of the provisions used in the Federal Court ruling on the Ezra case, that states that laws can be enacted to “control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief” among Muslims.
“Why shouldn’t we allow propagation of any religious doctrine or belief?” he said. “I should be confident enough in my knowledge of my own religion to know that questions that MIGHT arise from said propagations are questions asked to strengthen one’s faith, not to weaken it.”
Own way of enforcing Islam
Blogger Shahirah Elaiza Wan Hassan, 28, who is currently living in New Zealand, said Muslims in Malaysia have as much freedom as non-Muslims to pursue an education, to work, or to live peacefully.
“Every Islamic country has its own way of implementing Islam and incorporating Islam into the governance of a country. Furthermore, every Muslim individual is going to have their own personal journey. It’s important to accept nuances in the way Islam is practiced by everyday, flawed human beings,” Shahirah Elaiza, who is doing a Master’s in media studies, told Malay Mail Online.
She also stressed that people should not be prohibited from reading books or materials that critique Islam, noting the accessibility to such ideas on the internet.
“I personally believe texts or individuals that challenge our beliefs (in a respectful manner) can help strengthen our faith as Muslims and even correct our understanding of Islam while helping us to keep an open mind, especially in terms of understanding nuances in the way Islam is practiced and of course, the way other faiths are practiced too,” she said.
Gay Muslims restricted
Tnassri (a pseudonym), however, said he is restricted by “so many” rules and fears the unknown as a Muslim gay man.
“Gay clubs used to get raided on a higher rate compared to non-gay clubs, which now has led to there being only one gay bar left,” Tnassri, a 30-year-old who works in PR, told Malay Mail Online.
“The rate of HIV gay men is at an all time high and majority of them are Malay men. Why? Because of religion. They fear they will be condemned for being who they are that they choose to do normal adult things in hiding and don’t even want to get tested regularly, in fear that people will know they are gay,” he added.
Religious authorities should “act like decent human beings and not interfere in people’s private affairs”, according to Tnassri.
“Islam shouldn’t be forced onto an individual,” he said.